adjective unc·tu·ous \ ˈəŋ(k)-chə-wəs , -chəs , -shwəs \
Updated on: 14 Feb 2018

Definition of unctuous

1 : full of unction; especially : revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality
2 a : fatty, oily
b : smooth and greasy in texture or appearance
3 : plastic
  • fine unctuous clay





unctuous was our Word of the Day on 04/18/2016. Hear the podcast!

Examples of unctuous in a Sentence

  1. an unctuous effort to appear religious to the voters

  2. an unctuous appraisal of the musical talent shown by the boss's daughter

Recent Examples of unctuous from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unctuous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Is unctuous postivie or negative?

Nowadays, unctuous usually has a negative connotation, but it originated as a term describing a positive act, that of healing. The word comes from the Latin verb unguere ("to anoint"), a root that also gave rise to the words unguent ("a soothing or healing salve") and ointment. The oily nature of ointments may have led to the application of unctuous to describe things marked by an artificial gloss of sentimentality. An unctuous individual may mean well, but his or her insincere earnestness can leave an unwelcome residue with others, much like some ointments.

Origin and Etymology of unctuous

Middle English, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French unctueus, from Medieval Latin unctuosus, from Latin unctus act of anointing, from unguere to anoint

UNCTUOUS Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of unctuous for English Language Learners

  • —used to describe someone who speaks and behaves in a way that is meant to seem friendly and polite but that is unpleasant because it is obviously not sincere

Medical Dictionary


adjective unc·tu·ous \ ˈəŋ(k)-chə(-wə)s, ˈəŋ(k)sh-wəs \

medical Definition of unctuous

: rich in oil or fat : fatty
  • an unctuous pharmaceutical preparation

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